by Willard Manus
A gritty social drama with a surprisingly upbeat finish, URBAN HYMN has a lot going for it. The British film won several festival awards before its American release and it stars three young actors who surely will be heard from again in future.
Letitia Wright plays Jamie, a tough young black teenager whose rebelliousness keeps landing her in trouble with the authorities. After being kicked out of house and school, she lands up in a borstal-a prison for juvenile offenders.
Her best pal is Leanne, who is even more hard-boiled, cynical and disaffected than she is. Isabella Laughland brings this girl to life in a powerful, unsettling performance that won her an Evening Standard award for Most Promising Newcomer.
Both Jamie and Leanne come out of the underbelly of British society: poverty-stricken, violence-ridden neighborhoods where drugs and crime are coin of the realm. It was in places like these where the 2011 riots broke out. URBAN HYMN opens with archival footage of those riots, providing social context for the personal drama that follows.
role, that of an idealistic and unconventional social worker named Kate,
is played by Shirley Henderson, who won acclaim back in 1996 for her work
in Danny Boyles Trainspotting. Kate has a hard time
coping with the unruly Jamie, yet refuses to give up on her, having noticed
her melodious singing voice.